You’d never know that these innocuous phrases may not be the best to tell your kids. Avoid these 5 things you tell your kids but probably shouldn’t.
You’d never know that these phrases may not be the best to tell our kids. They’re bubbly and innocent, and day after day I still catch myself saying one of them, so what gives?
5 things you tell your kids but probably shouldn’t
Turns out a few of our often-said phrases could carry some negative consequences.
1. “Did you brush your teeth/put your toys away/eat your food?” (knowing he didn’t)
My three-year-old emerged from using the potty without any sound of running water. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked him, knowing for a fact that he completely skipped this step.
“Um… yeah!” he replied.
And who can blame him for lying? Asking questions you already know the answers to can lead him to lie as he tries to save face. Instead, just ask, “Can you wash your hands?” or, “Wash your hands, please.”
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2. “You’re so smart/creative/athletic.”
Paying compliments seems like the right way to go. After all, kids get a kick out of praise and get a boost of confidence. But labeling can limit their scope and segment them into certain abilities. The “artistic one” believes she can and should stick to art. Te “athletic one” thinks he gets attention only by excelling in sports.
Labeling kids also makes them feel like worse if they don’t live up to the hype. Telling a child he’s smart makes him believe that his “smartness” is inherent. That it has little to do with the actual effort he puts into studying and learning.
When he’s challenged, he feels terrible for not understanding the material. Or worse, he doesn’t even want to try (for fear of not living up to the title of “smart” any longer).
Instead, focus more on the effort he took to study (“You got an A on the test! Looks like all that studying paid off,”). He’ll tie his successes to his own efforts, and his failures to the lack of it. “I didn’t do well on the test because I didn’t study enough,” not “…because I’m not smart enough.”
3. “It’s okay” (and its partner, “Don’t cry”)
When our kids feel upset, hurt or sad, the first words out of my mouth are usually “It’s okay” or “Don’t cry.” We want to soothe our kids and help them cope with whatever hurt they’ve just experienced. Yet at these times, we need to choose our words. Telling our kids “It’s okay” assumes that everything is okay when, in their eyes, it’s not.
Saying “Don’t cry” also pushes our kids to rush through their emotions and “be happy already.” This can speak more to our own discomfort at having to deal with their negative emotions. It’s not healthy for kids to be sad all the time, but hushing up their cries implies that sadness is taboo.
Instead, comfort your kids in other ways. Assure them that you’re there, hold them, or let them be. After all, it’s rarely up to us to determine when it is okay, and when it’s time to stop crying.
4. “Good job!”
This is perhaps the phrase I struggle with the most. So what’s the big deal with saying “good job”?
First, saying “good job” too often can lead kids to rely too much on our opinions to feel good about themselves. They might even lose interest in the activity if we don’t offer praise often enough. Kids should enjoy the activity even if no witnesses were around to offer said praise).
And saying “good job” places judgment. Rather than saying “good job,” offer descriptive praise. Describe what’s going on. For instance, say, “It looks like you’re enjoying your toy,” or “You did it!”
5. “Say ‘sorry'”
Here’s another one that slips past my mouth more than it should. And it’s usually when I’m trying to school my son on something he shouldn’t have done.
Yet how genuine are his words when they’re forced? Not only are his words empty, but telling him to say sorry just might make him feel more shamed. Or worse, telling him to say sorry slaps an immediate resolution to the conflict. You’re not able to learn why he got frustrated in the first place, or what he could have done instead.
This doesn’t mean kids are off the hook. Reminding kids to say sorry is appropriate for accidents. It’s like reminding kids to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ as part of manners.
But we’re better off acknowledging the intentions that prompted him to misbehave. “You seem tired,” would show empathy on your part and point to a reason he acted up.
Then you can acknowledge other people’s feelings and encourage empathy on his part: “When you raised your voice, your brother got scared and upset.” You can even offer suggestions on what he can do instead. “Can you try kissing his head? Maybe that will make him feel better.”
If anything, at least suggest saying sorry. Many times my son will get upset when he realizes he has upset us. When I see him upset, I suggest, “You can say ‘sorry’ and that would make me feel better.”
Whew! Talk about the impact of the different ways we communicate with our kids. One thing I learned about parenting though is how much our words can make a difference. Phrasing something in a playful way stops a lot of nagging. Being direct avoids confrontation. And praising for effort and not innate traits to build grit and perseverance.
We don’t need to perfect everything we say (nor should we even try to). We’re not perfect, after all. But the more aware we are of what we say, the more effective and encouraging communicating with our kids can be.
Read more posts on how we communicate with kids:
- Can Praise Be Harmful and Impede Your Child’s Potential?
- Why It’s Not Good to Say Good Job (and What to Say Instead)
- 4 Things You Definitely Shouldn’t Say about Other People’s Children
- “It’s Okay”: Why You Shouldn’t Dismiss the Emotions of a Child
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